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" That is quite true. But you don't think I
never say my prayers, although you never see
me do it ?"

The fact was, my uncle, amongst his other

X 2



308 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

peculiarities, did not approve of teaching child-
ren to say their prayers. But he did not there-
fore leave me without instruction in the matter
of praying — either the idlest or the most avail-
ing of human actions. He would say, " When
you want anything, ask for it, Willie ; and if it
is worth your having, you will have it. But
don't fancy you are doing God any service by
praying to him. He likes you to pray to him
because he loves you, and wants you to love
him. And whatever you do, don't go saying a
lot of words you don't mean. If you think you
ought to pray, say your Lord's Prayer, and
have done with it." I had no theory myself
on the matter ; but when I was in misery on the
wild mountains, I had indeed prayed to God ;
and had even gone so far as to hope, when I
got what I prayed for, that he had heard my
prayer.

Charley made no reply.

" It seems to me better that sort of thing
shouldn't be seen, Charley," I persisted.

" Perhaps, Wilfrid ; but I was taught to say
my prayers regularly."

" I don't think much of that either," I an-



CHARLEY NURSES ME. 309

swered. " But I've said a good many prayers
since I've been here, Charley. I can't say I'm
sure it's of any use, but I can't help trying after
something — I don't know what — something I
want, and don't know how to get."

" But it's only the prayer of faith that's heard
— do you believe, Wilfrid ? "

" I don't know. I daren't say I don't. I
wish I could say I do. But I daresay things
will be considered."

" Wouldn't it be grand if it was true, Wil-
frid?"

"What, Charley?"

" That God actually let his creatures see him
— and — all that came of it, you know ?"

" It would be grand indeed ! But supposing
it true, how could we be expected to believe it
like them that saw him with their own eyes 1
/couldn't be required to believe just as if I
could have no doubt about it. It wouldn't be
fair. Only — perhaps we haven't got the clew
by the right end."

"Perhaps not. But sometimes I hate the
whole thing. And then again I feel as if I must
read all about it ; not that I care for it exactly,



310 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

but because a body must do something — because
— I don't know how to say it — because of the
misery, you know."

" I don't know that I do know — quite. But
now you have started the subject, I thought
that was great nonsense Mr. Forest was talking
about the authority of the church the other
day."

" Well, 1 thought so, too. I don't see what
right they have to say so and so, if they didn't
hear him speak. As to what he meant, they
may be right or they may be wrong. If they
have the gift of the Spirit, as they say — how am
I to tell they have ? All impostors claim it as
well as the true men. If I had ever so little of
the same gift myself, I suppose I could tell ;
but they say no one has till he believes — so
they may be all humbugs for anything I can
possibly tell ; or they may be all true men, and
yet I may fancy them all humbugs, and can't
help it."

I was quite as much astonished to hear Char-
ley talk in this style as some readers will be
doubtful whether a boy could have talked such



CHARLEY NURSES ME. 311

good sense. I said nothing, and a silence fol-
lowed.

" Would you like me to read to you, then !"
he asked.

" Yes, I should ; for, do you know, after all,
I don't think there's anything like the New
Testament."

" Anything like it !" he repeated. " I should
think not ! Only I wish I did know what it all
meant. I wish I could talk to my father as I
would to Jesus Christ if I saw him. But if I
could talk to my father, he wouldn't understand
me. He would speak to me as if I were the
very scum of the universe for daring to have a
doubt of what he told me."

" But he doesn't mean himself" I said.

" Well, who told him ?"

" The Bible."

"And who told the Bible ?"

u God, of course."

" But how am I to know that ? I only know
that they say so. Do you know, Wilfrid — I
dont believe my father is quite sure himself,
and that is what makes him in such a rage



312 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

with anybody who doesn't think as he does.
He's afraid it mayn't be true after all."

I had never had a father to talk to, but I
thought something must be wrong when a boy
couldrit talk to his father. My uncle was a
better father than that came to.

Another pause followed, during which Char-
ley searched for a chapter to fit the mood. I
will not say what chapter he found, for, after
all, I doubt if we had any real notion of what
it meant. 1 know, however, that there were
words in it which found their way to my con-
science ; and, let men of science or philosophy
say what they will, the rousing of a man's con-
science is the greatest event in his existence.
In such a matter, the consciousness of the man
himself is the sole witness. A Chinese can ex-
pose many of the absurdities and inconsisten-
cies of the English : it is their own Shakspere
who must bear witness to their sins and faults,
as well as their truths and characteristics.

After this we had many conversations about
such things, one of which I shall attempt to report
by-and-by. Of course, in any such attempt all
that can be done is to put the effect into fresh



CHARLEY NURSES ME. 313

conversational form. What I have just written
must at least be more orderly than what passed
between us ; but the spirit is much the same,
and mere fact is of consequence only as it affects
truth.



314



CHAPTER XX.

A DREAM.

rpHE best immediate result of my illness was
* that I learned to love Charley Osborne
more dearly. We renewed an affection resem-
bling from afar that of Shakspere for his
nameless friend ; we anticipated that informing
In Memoriam. Lest I be accused of infinite ar-
rogance, let me remind my reader that the sun
is reflected in a dewdrop as in the ocean.

One night I had a strange dream, which is
perhaps worth telling for the involution of its
consciousness.

I thought I was awake in my bed, and Char-
ley asleep in his. I lay looking into the room.
It began to waver and change. The night-light



A DREAM. 315

enlarged and receded ; and the walls trembled
and waved. The light had got behind them,
and shone through them.

" Charley ! Charley !" I cried ; for I was
frightened.

" I heard him move ; but before he reached
me, I was lying on a lawn, surrounded by trees,
with the moon shining through them from be-
hind. The next moment Charley was by my
side.

"Isn't it prime?" he said. " It's all over !"

k * AVhat do you mean, Charley ?" I asked.

" I mean that we're both dead now. It's not
so very bad — is it !"

" Nonsense, Charley !" I returned ; " I'm not
dead. I'm as wide alive as ever I was. Look
here."

So saying, I sprung to my feet, and drew my-
self up before him.

" Where's your worst pain ? " said Charley,
with a curious expression in his tone.

" Here," I answered. " No ; it's not ; it's in
my back. No, it isn't. It's nowhere. I haven't
got any pain."

Charley laughed a low laugh, which sounded



316 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

as sweet as strange. It was to the laughter of
the world " as moonlight is to sunlight," but
not " as water is to wine," for what it had lost in
sound it had gained in smile.

"Tell me now you're not dead!" he exclaim-
ed triumphantly.

" But," I insisted, " don't you see I'm alive 1
You may be dead for anything I know — but /
am not — I know that."

" You're just as dead as I am," he said. " Look
here."

A little way off, in an open plot by itself,
stood a little white rose tree, half mingled with
the moonlight. Charley went up to it, stepped
on the topmost twig, and stood : the bush did
not even bend under him.

" Very well," I answered. " You are dead, I
confess. But now, look you here."

I went to a red rose-bush which stood at
some distance, blanched in the moon, set my
foot on the top of it, and made as if I would
ascend, expecting to crush it, roses and all, to
the ground. But behold! I was standing on
my red rose opposite Charley on his white.

" I told you so," he cried, across the moon-



A DREAM. 317

light, and his voice sounded as if it came from
the moon far away.

" Oh Charley !" I cried, " I'm so frightened !"

'• What are you frightened at?"

" At you. You're dead, you know."

"It is a good thing, Wilfrid," he rejoined, in
a tone of some reproach, " that I am not fright-
ened at you for the same reason ; for what would
happen then ?"

"I don't know. I suppose you would go
away and leave me alone in this ghostly light."

" If I were frightened at you as you are at
me, we should not be able to see each other
at all. If you take courage the light will
grow."

" Don't leave me, Charley," I cried, and flung
myself from my tree towards his. I found my-
self floating, half reclined on the air. We met
midway each in the other's arms.

" I don't know where I am, Charley."

" That is my father's rectory."

He pointed to the house, which I had not
yet observed. It lay quite dark in the moon-
light, for not a window shone from within.

" Don't leave me, Charley."



318 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

"Leave you! I should think not, Wilfrid.
I have been long enough without you already."

" Have you been long dead, then, Charley ?"

" Not very long. Yes, a long time. But, in-
deed, I don't know. We don't count time as
we used to count it. — I want to go and see my
father. It is long since I saw him, anyhow.
Will you come?"

" If you think I might — if you wish it," I said,
for I had no great desire to see Mr. Osborne.
" Perhaps he won't care to see me."

" Perhaps not," said Charley, with another low
silvery laugh. " Come along."

" We glided over the grass. A window stood
a little open on the second floor. We floated
up, entered, and stood by the bedside of Charley's
father. He lay in a sound sleep.

44 Father ! father !" said Charley, whispering
in his ear as he lay — 44 it's all right. You need
not be troubled about me any more."

Mr. Osborne turned on his pillow.

44 He's dreaming about us now," said Charley.
44 He sees us both standing by his bed."

But the next moment Mr. Osborne sat up,
stretched out his arms towards us with the open



A DREAM. 319

palms outwards, as if pushing us away from
him, and cried,

" Depart from me, all evil-doers. Lord !
do I not hate them that hate thee V

He followed with other yet more awful words
which I never could recall. I only remember
the feeling of horror and amazement they left
behind. I turned to Charley. He had disap-
peared, and I found myself lying in the bed be-
side Mr. Osborne. I gave a great cry of dismay
— when there was Charley again beside me,
saying,

" What's the matter, Wilfrid? Wake up. My
father's not here."

I did wake, but until I had felt in the bed I
could not satisfy myself that Mr. Osborne was
indeed not there.

" You've been talking in your sleep. I could
hardly get you waked," said Charley, who stood
there in his shirt.

" Oh Charley ! " I cried, " I've had such a
dream !"

" What was it, Wilfrid ?"

" Oh I I can't talk about it yet," I answered.

I never did tell him that dream ; for even



320 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

then I was often uneasy about him — he was so
sensitive. The affections of my friend were as
hoops of steel ; his feelings a breath would
ripple. Oh, my Charley! if ever we meet in
that land so vaguely shadowed in my dream,
will you not know that I loved you heartily well ?
Shall I not hasten to lay bare my heart before
you — the priest of its confessional? Oh, Charley !
when the truth is known, the false will fly
asunder as the Autumn leaves in the wind ; but
the true, whatever their faults, will only draw
together the more tenderly that they have
sinned against each other.



END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.



LONDON : PRINTED BY MACDONALD AND TUGWELL, BLENHEIM HOUSE.






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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldWilfrid Cumbermede (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 14)